17 July 1998
GLOBAL SOLAR UV INDEX
WHO Warns About Possible Public Confusion
With summer temperatures reaching their peak in many countries of the Northern Hemisphere, the World Health Organization (WHO) drew the attention of the public at large to adverse health effects from increased human exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, of which the sun is the principal source.
UV exposure is known to be associated with various skin cancers, accelerated skin ageing, cataract and other eye diseases. It may also adversely affect people's ability to resist infectious diseases, and compromises the effectiveness of vaccination programmes.
WHO warned about a real danger of public confusion over the use of multiple UV indices together with a universal Global Solar UV Index recommended by international organizations in 1995.
Some of these multiple indices are promoted by sunscreen or cosmetic manufacturers for commercial purposes and used by local authorities unaware of the standardized and internationally accepted Global Solar UV Index.
The Global Solar UV Index is an estimate of the maximum skin damaging UV measured over a period of 10 to 30 minutes at solar noon on a given day. The higher the UV Index, the greater the exposure to skin and eye damaging UV and the less time it takes for this damage to occur.
The purpose of the Global Solar UV Index is to provide uniform information to the public and workers about daily UV exposure levels and protective measures that should be taken with various index values.
Values of the UV Index range from zero upward. In many countries close to the equator, summertime values can range up to 20. In Europe, summer maxima are generally not more than about 8, but can be higher, especially at beach resorts. While not yet standardised world wide, the Global Solar UV Index values can generally be described as Low (Index values 1 and 2), Moderate (3 and 4), High (5 and 6), Very high (7 and 8) and Extreme (greater than 9).
Recommendations on the calculation, expression and dissemination of the Global Solar UV Index were made in 1995 by WHO, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). These international organizations recommended that:
- The Global Solar UV Index should be used as a vehicle to raise public awareness of the potential harm of excessive UV exposure and help the public to adopt protective measures.
- National governments should be encouraged to use the Global Solar UV Index as part of their public awareness and educational programmes.
- The news media should be encouraged to use the Global Solar UV Index in their daily weather reports so that the information they provide could be universally understood.
WHO emphasized that there is now a real danger that using the standardized Global Solar UV Index at the same time as the many other UV indices in existence will lead to public confusion about the important health messages related to different Global Solar UV Index values.
Further information about the WHO's UV Project can be obtained from the home page at: http://www.who.ch/uv/.
For further information, journalists can contact Igor Rozov, Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 2532. Fax (41 22) 791 4858. E-Mail:email@example.com
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home pagehttp://www.who.ch/